Tomorrow is Black Friday south of the 49th, the biggest consumer bender known to humanity. Called black because merchants’ books finally crossover from the red into the black, it’s an apt adjective for other reasons. And it would be so easy to watch the spree and smugly gloat, believing I’m free from that, above it all. Truth is, what separates me from a Black Friday binge is merely opportunity.
In the past few weeks, since stepping down as Sr. Pastor at River Park Church and stepping into a time of pared down living, I’ve spent a fair bit of time simply scraping away the accumulated clutter of life. I find myself surprised, wondering where all this stuff came from? I’m developing a theory about the reproductive capacities of inert material things, certain that my books, the children’s toys, electronics and clothes are all mating with each other, my desk drawers, filing cabinets and closets their dimly lit breeding grounds, with Barry White playing somewhere in the background.
I’d happily settle for that convenient explanation but the uglier truth hitting home is that for all this stuff, I saw it, I desired it, I justified its importance to my life, I had to have it, I pursued it, and in the end, I bought it. Here’s an illustrative event, the moment a box of books (my drug) arrives from Amazon (my dealer) – the immediate hit is like a drug entering the bloodstream; I’m flush with excitement, feeling a boosted sense of identity (just having “that” book or clothing item/gadget/outdoor gear/music/artwork/whatever makes me feel smarter and savvy, well-read and in-touch, manly and spiritual). And yet the same unbelievably boring cycle repeats itself, that in weeks, if not days, the gleam is gone and whatever it was I saw and wanted now becomes what it really is – stuff that clutters my life, needs to be maintained and cared for, and gets stored away somewhere, forgotten, stumbled upon, then hauled off and either sold, recycled or tossed.
I’m struck scared by how deep the demon is in me (the evidence is strewn all about me), how my life has been discipled into this consumer way of living without me really seeing it happen at all. Consumerism has become an alternative but dominant religion in our world, hawking meaning, identity and purpose for our lives. Count up all the time, energy, and hope, let alone money, that get invested in researching, ogling, desiring, pursuing, purchasing, enjoying and acquiring stuff – then tell me how free you are from this thing.
Arguably, the problem is not the stuff itself, it’s the wantings. It’s your heart, my heart sick with desire, the wanting for something that an Ipad, sweater, new house or Chia-pet will never fill. Something has us and how we need healing.
Which brings me to needed beauty, a shot-to-the-heart song of confession from the Avett Brothers. If you’ve never heard of them, Seth and Scott Avett are two Jesus looking dudes with raw, beautiful music that heals and brings life. They blew me away this summer in a fantastic festival show and now they’re on repeat in our Ipod at home. And I can’t think of a better anthem for Black Friday than Ill with Want.